Today is the end of a long road, as we are officially just one day away from the Chicago Bears first game of the 2023 NFL regular season. Since early June, we've seen the best player in team history to wear each number. Starting with Dan Hampton, we've seen Hall of Famers like Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, and Bill George, Super Bowl champions in Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, and Richard Dent, and even recent legends such as Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, and Julius Peppers.
However, tomorrow brings us the start of a new season, and a new era of football in the Windy City, and to celebrate, Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff concludes today by looking at the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number one, quarterback Justin Fields.
Chicago Bears add Justin Fields after Dominate High School, College Careers
Hailing originally from Kennesaw, Georgia, Justin Fields grew up close to the game of football and was a big fan of the nearby Atlanta Falcons. Growing up squarely in the Matt Ryan - Julio Jones era, Fields was able to attend a number of games thanks to the help of his father, who was a season ticket holder. However, by the time Fields enrolled at Harrison High School and joined the football team, his game included some "Matty Ice", but also channeled the likes of another Falcons legend, Michael Vick.
Fields sat as a backup quarterback in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but in the 2016 season, he was given the reigns of the offense, and he showed out in his first opportunity. During his junior campaign, Fields averaged 230 passing yards and just shy of 100 rushing yards per game over a 12-game season, while scoring 48 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.
Following his standout year, Fields was invited to the 2017 Elite 11 quarterback camp. The event is an opportunity for the nation's top high school quarterbacks to work with professional-level coaches to prepare them for the ensuing season and their prospective collegiate years. Fields was joined by future NFL players Trevor Lawrence, Matt Corrall, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and Tanner McKee, but by the end of the week, the coaching staff named the Kennesaw native the MVP of the 2017 camp.
Quickly, Fields gathered national attention as a dual-threat quarterback prospect and entered his senior season as one of the top players to watch at the high school level. He had a similarly impressive start to the year as he did the season prior, and shot up recruiting boards, eventually becoming the second highest-rated player in the nation, and was a consensus five-star recruit.
After considering offers from several top collegiate programs, Fields was able to commit to the in-state University of Georgia hallway through his senior season. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, Fields would sustain a season-ending finger injury, limiting him to just seven appearances on the year. Still, the quarterback was very productive, averaging 200 passing yards and 130 rushing yards per game while adding 31 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Despite missing almost half the season, Fields was named his class's State Offensive Player of the Year and was named Mr. Georgia Football after the year.
Fields' injured figure was surgically repaired before the 2018 season, so by his freshman year at Georgia, the quarterback was fully healthy. Entering training camp, Fields' primary competition for the quarterback spot was Jake Fromm, the team's starter from a season ago. The Bulldogs elected to stick with their veteran passer, but used Fields throughout the season, either as a more dynamic option in the backfield or as a relief quarterback once Georgia put enough points on the board to make the team feel comfortable.
In limited time as a true freshman, Fields was extremely efficient. With just 39 pass attempts throughout the season, he was able to complete 27 passes to the tune of 328 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions while also turning in four touchdowns and over 250 yards on the ground.
After a promising glimpse into what Fields could bring to the table as a full-time starting quarterback, but ultimately, it would not come with the Georgia Bulldogs. Upon realizing that Fromm, who declared his intentions to return for another season, would again be the starter, the quarterback elected to enter the transfer portal. Unfortunately, this logjam at the position would not be the only catalyst for Fields' departure from his home-state college, as Fields was also allegedly the target of hate speech from members of the school's baseball program.
Regardless of what moved him to, Fields entered the transfer portal as a top option for quarterback-needy teams, and he ended up being a perfect fit with the Ohio State Buckeyes, who just lost their quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the NFL Draft. Joining the team ahead of the 2019 season, Fields had to compete for the starting job, but quickly earned the control of the offense, and led the team to start the regular season.
In his first season as a college's full-time starting quarterback, Fields posted ridiculous numbers on a loaded Ohio State offense. Surrounded by future NFL stars Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and J.K. Dobbins, Fields was the engine that moved the Buckeye's offense, and he helped the team post an undefeated regular season, including a win versus Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship. Through the team's first 13 games, the conference title game included, Fields recorded 40 passing touchdowns to just one interception with nearly 3,000 passing yards and added 10 touchdowns and over 450 yards as a rusher.
Fields had led the team back to the College Football Playoff, where they faced off against the number three-seeded Clemson Tigers, led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Throughout their careers, Lawrence was successful in playing spoiler to Fields, as the Clemson player was named the number one recruit of their class, and was also a star high school quarterback in the state of Georgia. Their postseason matchup would end up being no different, as Fields committed two turnovers in the passing game, doubling his regular-season total. Lawrence and the Tigers prevailed 29-23 but would go on to lose to Joe Burrow's LSU squad in the National Championship.
Despite his amazing season, Fields finished third in the Heisman race behind Burrow and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, the latter of whom had also transferred out of the SEC prior to the season. Fields still ended the season with a lot of hardware, including the Big Ten Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, Big Ten Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year, and a consensus Second-Team All-American nod.
Still, despite winning a number of awards and playing out of his mind in 2019, Fields and the Buckeyes had their eyes set on revenge for the 2020 season. Unfortunately, all plans for the season were put on hold and muddied by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fields was a vocal leader within the conference in terms of trying to get back onto the field for the year, and he was able to work alongside then-Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren in that effort (this offseason, Warren became the Chicago Bears' new CEO and president, and is currently heading the stadium re-location project).
During the ensuing regular season, Fields and the Buckeyes were only able to play in five regular-season games, but the quarterback remained one of the top players of the conference and was able to lead the team to a second consecutive Big Ten Championship appearance, where they made quick work of the Northwestern Wildcards. The team subsequently returned to the College Football Playoffs, and Fields had an impressive revenge game against Lawrence's Clemson squad.
Finishing the game with nearly 400 yards and six passing touchdowns, Fields was lights out in the team's semi-final Sugar Bowl victory. Fields was named the game's MVP but looked ahead to their showdown versus the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship game. Against an impressive Tide defense, Fields struggled to produce on the same level. He still played well, finishing with over 250 yards, a touchdown, and zero turnovers, but it was not enough to lift Ohio State past Alabama.
After the shortened season and his third in the collegiate ranks, Fields elected to forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. Fields was highly regarded as one of the top quarterbacks of his class, and only Lawrence rivaled him as a prospect with a more successful collegiate career under center. Still, project quarterbacks such as Zach Wilson and Trey Lance began to gain steam heading into the draft, and up until the night of the event, it was unclear when or where Fields would be drafted.
The draft started with the selection of three straight quarterbacks, the first instance of such a run since 1999. However, Fields was not among the first selections and even fell out of the top 10 of a loaded class. Fortunately, the Chicago Bears were able to strike a deal with the New York Giants, leading the Windy City club to move from the 20th overall spot to the 11th selection. The team selected Fields, surrendering a future first-rounder in the process. While the Giants would use the 20th overall pick to add wide receiver Kadarius Toney, the Chicago Bears had found their new franchise quarterback.
Justin Fields's 10 Game Rookie Season with Chicago Bears
The Bears had just moved on from former first-rounder Mitchell Trubisky, who finished his fourth season the year prior. With Trubisky's departure, the team brought in quarterback Andy Dalton, who would eventually compete with Fields for the team's starting position.
To start the 2021 season, Dalton was named the starter, with Fields being kept on the sideline to give him as much time as possible to learn the offense. Still, Fields was used situationally in the team's first two games and even scored a three-yard rushing touchdown in his NFL debut against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football.
However, by the team's third game, Fields was promoted to the team's starting role, where he was involved in one of the grosser games in recent team history. Against the Cleveland Browns, the offensive line and coaching staff did Fields no favor, as no one seemed to have a plan for a dominant Myles Garrett-led defensive line that finished the day with nine sacks on the day.
After a horrific outing in Cleveland, the Chicago Bears and Fields seemed to improve, winning each of their next two games. However, the team would then go on a four-game losing streak before their week 11 battle versus the Baltimore Ravens. In the game, Fields suffered multiple cracked ribs after a tough hit and ended up missing five of the team's final seven games.
Fields' rookie season ended with a lot to be desired, as the team finished with a 2-8 record in the 10 games that he started (including the loss to the Ravens where Fields left the game halfway through). Statistically, the rookie quarterback did not have an impressive season, finishing with nine total touchdowns 10 interceptions, and just shy of 2,300 all-purpose yards.
Still, Fields gained the experience of 10 NFL games in his back pocket, created a strong connection with wide receiver Darnell Mooney, and created a dynamic rushing duo in the backfield alongside David Montgomery. However, the end of the season also marked the end of the Matt Nagy-Ryan Pace era, with the team replacing the two with Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles.
New Chicago Bears Regime Watches Justin Fields Shine in Second Year
Entering his second year in the NFL, Fields was tasked to prove himself to a new regime that had no ties to the young player, while simultaneously learning his second offense underneath coordinator Luke Getsy. The scheme, which comes ultimately from the Shanahan coaching tree but is most similar to Mike LaFleur's offense in Green Bay, would ultimately allow Fields to rely on his natural ability as a rusher while creating moving pockets and roll-out opportunities to help him see easier progressions in the passing game.
However, by his second season, the talent around Fields had questionably regressed, as veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson departed the team in free agency, and defensive leaders Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn would get traded throughout the season. Still, Fields entered the season as the team's day one starter, and while the front office had put the franchise in a position to earn a top draft pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Fields was still determined to show progress through his young professional career.
Over the first few weeks of the season, the offense struggled to strike fear into their opponents. Fields started the season with a pair of passing touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers, but it would mark his only multiple air score game of the first half of the season. After starting the season 2-1, the Bears fell to 2-4, where they seemed to find new life in a Monday night showdown versus the New England Patriots.
In Foxborough, Fields totaled over 260 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns en route to leading his team to a dominant 33-14 victory. It was his second game in a row posting over 80 yards on the ground, and his abilities as a rusher began to become known around the league as one of the best for any ball-handler in the league.
The game would end up being the team's last win of the year, but it was far from Fields' best game to come. Down the stretch, the quarterback set crazy marks, recording three games with over 130 yards on the ground, four interception-less contests, and three outings with over three total touchdowns. The team ended the season with a 3-14 record, securing the number one pick, but there was no doubt that the team would select to stay with Fields over potentially drafting a new quarterback.
With 1,143 yards on the ground in just 15 games, Fields finished with the second-most rushing yards by a quarterback in one season in league history, with only Lamar Jackson's MVP season serving as a higher mark. He finished as the league's seventh-highest rusher, all players included, and helped the team record a league-leading 3,014 rushing yards.
Chicago Bears Surround Justin Fields with Talent Heading into 2023 Season
Despite showing out on the ground and improving as a passer throughout the year, Fields still has a way to go to become a top quarterback in the league. However, the franchise seems to be near all-in on the young quarterback and utilized the offseason to surround the young playmaker with more talent, including first-round rookie tackle Darnell Wright and newly added wide receiver D.J. Moore.
The 2023 season represents his second season as both the full-time starter and as the quarterback in Luke Getsy's offense, and with more to work with, it seems like Fields is prepared to take a major step forward. Preseason is preseason, and shouldn't be taken too seriously, but we have already seen that Fields has players that he can get the ball to and let go to work. With his reputation as a volatile runner, Fields already has defenses on high alert, and if he can tap into some of the passing production he had while at Ohio State, it could be a monster year for the quarterback.
However, outside expectations and opinions ultimately do not matter. Tomorrow, Fields will lead the Chicago Bars onto Soldier Field to battle the Green Bay Packers, and while it is essential to not overreact after one game, it may end up being a very telling opportunity to see how Fields has progressed. The Green Bay defense is no joke, as they possess one of the league's top edge rushers and cornerbacks, but with a revamped set of skill position players to work with, Fields will hopefully be allowed to truly lead the offense up and down the field.